Centenary census

Apr 10th, 2011 | By | Category: Ireland

The function of the Census form is unclear.

Apart from gathering statistics on arbitrary racial groupings and doing a sectarian head count (leaving out the Methodists for some odd reason); it is hard to discern what useful information is being gathered.  Surely, the Department of Education  knows how many graduates there are, and the social services know who is in need of a carer and the Revenue Commissioners have some record of who works for which employer (and if they don’t, then surely there is some problem?).  Even the questions about journeys to school and work are so vague as to be meaningless – without details of routes and destinations, there is not much that can be done with the data (and the Census allows for no possibility of children being at boarding school).

Comparing the form completed this evening with the census return for 1911, the most striking difference is in the number in the house.

There are four of us: in the 1911 Census, eight people lived in the house:image

Thomas Edward Winder, the 45 year old Dean of Ossory; Emily Winder, his wife, who was some five years older than him; and Naomi Mary Winder, their sixteen year old daughter.

The other five members of the household were Marguerite Marie Matifas, the thirty year old French governess of Naomi; Anne Josephine O’Brien, who was forty and who was the cook; Mary Hauton, the twenty-six year old parlourmaid; Elizabeth Power, the thirty year old housemaid; and James Butler, forty-three years old and a widower, who was gardener.

If that were not enough, the coach house in the front yard was occupied by the Rickaby  family.  Thirty two year old George Rickaby is chauffeur to the family; he and his wife Teresa lived in the coach house with their daughters, one year old Norah and Kathleen who was less than a month old.

Just five years before the week of Easter 1916 which would change things utterly, life here seems to have been lived as though it were still the Nineteenth, or even the Eighteenth, Century.  Ten years previously, seventy year old Dean Hare and his two adopted daughters had employed only two servants.

1911 was the eve of the modern age; society was changing; communications and transport were being revolutionized; nationalism was dominant in Ireland and Home Rule on the agenda; three years later, the Great War would change the world.  The 1911 Census gives a view of the last days of the old society, never again would the old houses complete such census returns.  Perhaps in 2111, those looking back at the quaintly archaic custom of writing on paper will regard the 2011 Census as the end of an era and the eve of something new and unanticipated.



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  1. My grandson, born on the 27th March, may be one of the last ‘new’ people recorded on the census in its current incarnation.

  2. Our censuses are every five years – twice the expense!

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